MUMBAI: Drawing an unlikely parallel between the Indian Super League, in its infancy now, and the phenomenally successful Premier League, England's football great Alan Shearer said the baby steps taken a quarter century ago have led EPL to where it's now.
"My friends here tell me that football is never going to be the number one sport in India and cricket will always have that title. But that does not mean stopping efforts to make Indian football bigger and better," said the former England international at a media interaction today.
"When we look back to EPL in 1992 and now it shows how small steps will eventually get you there," said the ex-Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers star striker who is the holder of the EPL's goal scoring record (260 strikes).
Shearer, who is here to take part in "The Football Movement" initiative, did not think China's recent trend of paying exorbitant amount to attract top players to play in that nation's league could be sustained for long.
"I don't necessarily see that as the right way forward because it's instant. I find it difficult to see how China is going to sustain it. It's about growing, about trying to promote from within, getting the youth involved in the game. But it's not a quick process and will take time.
"The difference between China and ISL is that when ISL signed a lot of big name players they were sort of on their way out or in the latter stages of their careers. What China are doing is to get players at the peak of their career, 24 or 25 years of age, which is one of the reasons why they have to pay the outrageous sums of money as salaries.
"I find it difficult to see how China will be able to sustain paying the sort of salaries to players they pay now."
He was candid to say the world's most popular sport is now a business and player power has increased multi-fold, thus making the football manager's job a bit more taxing.
"Football is a business, that's the way you have to look at it. From football club to others, everyone wants to make money. That's the world we live in and in football, more so. That's never going to change and it will only get bigger."
"You don't get as much time to build a team as manager any more. If you don't like that, then don't go into management. We can't complain about it. If you decide to go into the management route, you will get sacked at some stage in your career," said Shearer.
"It happened to (Jose) Mourinho as manager (of Chelsea who resigned in 2015 after signing a contract till 2019). It's a tough job. You cannot afford to fall out with your players," said the former England captain who played in two Euros as well as the 1998 World Cup finals.
"Football some times is not in real world with regards to transfer fees. In 1996, when I was the costliest player at 15 million USD, people said no one is worth that much. When you compare that to what is happening in the China Premier League, it's only a matter of time the world record (for player transfer) will be broken. That's football. It's only going to get bigger," the 46-year-old former player said.
"It's incredible and you can never ever justify it. There is very little loyalty in football, whether from players, from managers or from owners of football clubs. Loyalty and football don't go along (together)," he remarked.
Shearer is also not amused by the expanded 48-team World Cup finals competition already announced by the world body, FIFA, from the 2026 edition, as he felt the bloated format would dilute its quality. "It's for finance. When we go to the World Cup finals, I believe that's what it should be - finals. Only the biggest and best teams should be there. I think you are decreasing the standard of football by adding those extra teams."
He also differed with views stressing good playing facilities are needed to encourage children to play football.
"I did not have a great stadium to play as a kid. I had a tiny patch of grass in my back garden, or in front or the road. I loved the game.
"If we can promote the game and tell kids how great football is, you don't necessarily need great facilities. I never had it and it probably made me a better player and a better person as I did not have the pristine pitches or training pitches as they are now. I played on roads and streets and used cans or stones to play,"
Shearer conceded that England had not been good enough after 1966, their biggest hour of glory, in subsequent World Cup or Euro Cup attempts although they had been a bit unfortunate on occasions with penalties deciding their exit from the major football competitions.
"We had not been good enough. Some times we had been unlucky with penalties as in the 1990 semi finals and in 1996 against Germany in Euro and in 1998 World Cup against Argentina when David Bechkam was sent off.
"Other than that we have to hold our hands up that we have not been good enough. No excuses," said the former international.
Although football is a truly global sport, countries other than those located geographically in Europe or South America have never won the biggest prize, the World Cup, and Shearer said it won't take place anytime in the near-future although he would love it to happen.
"I think it will be very difficult. I think it will be great to see because of the attention it will take. But it's going to take something special to come out and beat the likes of Brazil, Argentina, Germany, France etc. No one expected Portugal to win the Euro last summer in France.
"Other than (Christiano) Ronaldo, Portugal did not necessarily have the best team. Everyone needs a bit of luck.
"But they (countries outside Europe and South America) are getting better, which is one thing. But going on to win a major tournament is different. It will take time, but I would love to see it one day as much as I would love to see England winning it."
While praising the EPL as "the best" in the world, in terms of the "whole package", Shearer said lack of enough home grown players in the league was affecting the country's chances at the international level.
"We are not producing enough young kids, partly because of the number of foreign players in our League. They are slowing the growth of our players. Because of finances it's cheaper to buy foreign players of the same standard. We are not producing enough coaches, that's also one of the reasons," said Shearer.